Down East 2013 ©
Summer visitors who think they hear cannon fire echoing across the fields in Maine’s blueberry regions don’t have to start looking for bomb shelters. They are listening to the annual bloodless battle between the people who own and harvest the blueberries and the wildlife who see the barrens as a blue-tinted buffet.
Propane-fueled cannons are used to scare away the birds, foxes, bears, and other animals that feast on the annual blueberry crop. “The boom guns aren’t as common as they used to be,” notes Molly Sholes, of Spruce Mountain Blueberries in West Rockport, “but some people still use them, especially in areas where they get a lot of seagulls.” Seagulls are a special problem, Sholes notes, because “their droppings are horrible to rake through when you’re harvesting the fields.”
The prize in the annual contest is a blueberry harvest that means a lot more than a few muffins and pies. Last year’s crop totaled an amazing 110.6 million pounds valued at upwards of $125 million, numbers that still have growers shaking their heads. The average in the previous five years was 65.5 million pounds from some 30,000 acres.
“Two thousand was an extraordinary year,” admits David Bell, executive director of the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission. “We had perfect growing conditions.” Maine has about sixty thousand acres in blueberries, but half are left fallow after pruning each year.
Bell says propane cannons are used on an as-needed basis. “They don’t require intensive management,” he explains. “You can set one up with a timer and leave it in the field.”
Unfortunately, familiarity breeds complacency, and after a while the gulls and bears learn that the cannons’ booms have no bite. Sholes says growers also use blank shotgun shells to scare off the competition. “As a last resort, we just go out there with a couple of pie tins and pound them together,” she says. That’s one way to make sure there are blueberries to fill them later.
(Published July 2001)